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What People Don't See About My Nonverbal Learning Disability

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Most people are surprised after they hear that I have a nonverbal learning disability and I am able to speak. Most people are also shocked to find out that I have any disability at all, because I have a seemingly “typical” life with a college degree, a job, family and friends, and my own apartment. Unfortunately, this is the side effect of having a disability that is not well-known or even researched enough to reach a consensus to put in the DSM.

When people look at me, they often don’t see that I have trouble processing their body language. Their perfectly innocent facial expression could confuse me. Their tone of voice may sound harsh to me and make me upset. If they tell me something sarcastic, I may or may not get it right away, or I may not understand it at all. If they are laughing at something, I have the tendency to take it very personally. They don’t see that I have trouble meeting new people or in the past, holding down a job.

When people look at me, they don’t see that nonverbal learning disability causes me to have trouble organizing and keeping my life together. I have trouble with time management and I am always running behind. I always end up losing my keys, or I forget I had an obligation that day. I have trouble sticking to a schedule to keep my apartment clean, and I will often just say “forget it” because it becomes too overwhelming for me.

When people look at me, they don’t know how much trouble I have navigating the streets. I get lost frequently and take wrong turns. I still have to use my hands to determine left or right. I cannot go anywhere without my phone GPS, and people don’t understand why I have to have my phone charged at all times.

When people look at me, they don’t see that I have poor fine motor skills. I cannot open the childproof caps on medicine bottles. If something is screwed on too tightly, I cannot open it until someone is around to help me. I have trouble picking up small items and I have little grip strength. When people see me, they don’t see that I have visual spatial issues. They don’t see that I can’t drive because I have poor depth perception. They don’t understand why it’s terrifying for me to climb down stairs or take an escalator, because it feels like I’m falling. They don’t understand why I am constantly bruised and scraped as an adult because I tripped into something, or fell because I tripped over something.

When people see me, they don’t see that I have sensory issues. The small noises people make will get to me and cause anxiety. If someone is chewing too loudly, it will make me angry, especially if I’m trying to concentrate. A lot of scents are too much for me and cause headaches. A lot of fabric is too itchy for me to wear, and I’d much rather be in sweatpants and a hoodie.

When people see me, they don’t understand why I am so anxious and reserved. They don’t understand that because I’ve been through so much and I’ve felt shunned so much of my life, I have trouble coping with the world around me. They don’t understand that living life is overwhelming for me and I just want to stay home a lot of the time. They don’t understand that what I go through is exhausting and takes a lot out of me. It’s exhausting having to explain what my disability involves and why I behave a certain way.

Nonverbal learning disorder is legitimate, and while I’m fortunate that I have a milder case and a great support system, I still struggle. It is my hope that I can raise awareness and hopefully someday, nonverbal learning disorder will find its way into a future version of the DSM, so future generations can get the help they deserve.

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Originally published: January 18, 2017
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